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Feeding the Media: Business Lobbies, Academics and Think Tanks

It has emerged that the taxi company, Uber, waged a campaign to influence positive media stories about itself. The UK Guardian newspaper reports, "Uber paid high-profile academics in Europe & the US hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce reports that could be used as part of the company’s lobbying campaign. The Uber files, a cache of thousands of confidential documents leaked to the Guardian, reveal lucrative deals with several leading academics who were paid to publish research on the benefits of its economic model. The reports were commissioned as Uber wrestled with regulators in key cities around the world".


One of the academics named is Professor Justus Haucap, who began his career at the NZ Treasury in the late 1990s. He gave a talk to the NZ Initiative in Wellington in 2013 (https://www.nzinitiative.org.nz/events/tales-from-absurdistan-with-professor-justus-haucap/) and a NZ Treasury presentation in 2017 when he came here as a LEANZ (Law & Economics) Visiting Scholar (https://www.treasury.govt.nz/news-and-events/our-events/philosophy-regulation). Haucap is described as "a consultant on competition issues" to various firms and Government agencies, including the NZ Treasury.


According to the Guardian, "In Germany, where authorities were clamping down on Uber’s breaches of regulations in 2014, Professor Justus Haucap, a leading economist at Düsseldorf University’s Institute for Competition Economics, agreed to produce a study on “consumer benefits from a liberalization of the German taxi market”. The study was conducted in collaboration with a consultancy arm of the German Institute for Economic Research, described by Uber executives in internal emails as “the think-tank that has greatest sway with the current government”, for what the leak suggested was a fee of €48,000 plus VAT.


The academics were expected to help promote the research at events & in the press, a leaked service agreement & invoices suggest. Haucap launched the report at events for influencers & politicians in Berlin. Haucap, his consultancy firm DICE Consult & DIW all said that while the data was provided by Uber, the study met rigorous independent, scientific standards & was not predetermined by Uber. They added that it was identified as a paid report for Uber".


Another academic named is Professor Alan Krueger, who I worked with at Princeton University in 2003, and who subsequently became President Obama’s chief economic adviser .."The Uber files reveal for the first time that he was paid about $100,000 for a study that was widely quoted in support of Uber as a creator of good jobs precisely because it operated outside the rules. Internal Uber emails note that he was 'helpful with the press'". Kruger died unexpectedly in 2019, as reported by The Washington Post below.


Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2022/jul/12/uber-paid-academics-six-figure-sums-for-research-to-feed-to-the-media


https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/alan-krueger-labor-economist-who-advised-clinton-and-obama-dies-at-58/2019/03/18/4d41942e-498e-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html